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Cass Unger - Potato

Calliope's picture

Cass Unger – the potato

In the novel All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki, Cass Unger Quinn begins by having to play a potato in the school Thanksgiving pageant and ultimately develops her identity as a potato as well as negative body image. From her childhood to her adult life, Cass has been surrounded by potatoes and they influenced her identity. Throughout the novel, she consistently returns to the idea of her as a potato and it plagues her mind.

Throughout the novel, parallels can be drawn between Cass and the potatoes that she helps to farm. Beginning in elementary school when she actually becomes a potato, being a potato becomes part of her identity. “Cassie had started out as a pea. Up through the third grade she was content in this role, but by the time she got to fourth, she had gained so much weight that they made her a potato. She said it was fine, said she really didn’t mind – that’s just the kind of girl she was – but inside she minded a lot” (7). Soft spoken and shy, she “said it was fine” while she really “minded a lot.” This is because, “everyone knew that the side dishes were typecast … what is a potato? A potato is a fat, round, dumpy white thing, wrapped in burlap, rolling around on a dirty stage” (7). Her description of the potato as a “fat, round dumpy white thing” seems to be a reflection of herself, especially when compared to Yumi as the Indian princess. “As Cass recalled it, Yummy was always the Indian princess, even in first grade, when everybody else in their class was still playing gravy … Tall and slim, wearing love beads, a buckskin miniskirt, and a headband with a jaunty hawk feather stick in the back … Yummy made a luscious ambassador” (7-8). Cass describes herself as “a dumpy white thing” while Yummy is “a luscious ambassador.”  This is one way in which Cass is similar to potatoes. She compares herself physically to them as well as comparing herself to Yumi which later on add to her issues surrounding body image.

Cass remains defensive about her past role as a potato because she has negative body image problems which contribute to her feeling like a potato. When Will comments on her role, she shuts him down immediately. “’What’s that one?’ It was a group photo, taken at school after the last Thanksgiving pageant. ‘Are you in it?’ Will asked. Cass nodded. He narrowed his eyes, held the photo closer. ‘Which one is you?’ She pointed to the edge, where she was standing amid the side dishes. Will laughed. ‘Well don’t you make the cutest, plumpest little-‘ ‘Don’t’ Cass warned (35). She is already insecure about her body because she has had cancer and a mastectomy. Even the smallest comments about her as a child hurt. She thinks about her identity as a potato very often, "Cass pulled away and went back to her picking. Resignation. Too many years spent as a potato" (9). While many people would have tried to forget their embarrassing childhood memories, Cass thinks things such as, “too many years spent as a potato” very often. She continues to compare herself to a potato, an example of her negative body image and also of her parallels with potatoes.

Just like the potatoes that she farms, Cass is also full of GMOs, chemicals, and is infertile. The chemicals help the companies maintain their profits because famers have to continue to buy seeds rather than letting the potatoes grow unchecked. The GMOs and other miscellaneous chemicals cause the potatoes to be unnatural and unhealthy as well as infertile. Cass has been connected to potatoes her whole life, from being a potato in the Thanksgiving pageant to marrying Will, a potato farmer, to working on a potato farm daily. Another result of the dangerous chemicals in her system is shown through her being a two-time cancer survivor. She had to get surgeries, for example a mastectomy as a precaution when she realized that she had cancer which also contributes to her negative body image. Just like the potatoes, Cass is genetically modified.



Anne Dalke's picture

I was very interested in this line of thinking, when you developed it during our conference last week, and think you really do a very nice job in pulling out many of the references that compare Cass to a potato, from her childhood role in the Thanksgiving pageant through her adult experiences with being “genetically modified” (there are many quotes that you could use to develop that portion of the paper, and maybe, once you finish the novel, that’s what you’ll want to do?

As you work towards a second draft of this paper, I also want to nudge you to develop what is now a great series of descriptions into an argument. At this point, you open the paper by saying that Cass “consistently returns to the idea of her as a potato and it plagues her mind”; you end it by saying that “just like the potatoes, Cass is genetically modified.” So you’ve shown us the parallels. But what meaning can you make of them? What does it mean that a person is like a plant? What is Ozeki suggesting, by developing that parallel? Can you connect Cass Unger, potato, to the troubling passage we read in class, about the crossbred squash and the mixed up kids? Might you start w/ your not buying that parallel (if I remember that aright?, then cf. it to this one, which works better?

A reminder that I asked you, last week to review sentence fragments (though I see none in this paper) and citation form (you have no Works Cited here)—as well as to organize /oneworld/eportfolio/Calliope Please go there now and tag all your Friday papers. Thanks!